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Inside the world's smallest city
Posted on 01/04/2016

CultureCroatia

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According to the Guinness World Records, it's the smallest city in the world. But the Croatian town of Hum has a lot more to offer than you might expect...

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  • The medieval town of Hum
    The medieval town of Hum
  • The Istrian peninsula is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea
    The Istrian peninsula is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea
  • Hilltop villages make for perfect hiking routes
    Hilltop villages make for perfect hiking routes
  • Its vineyards feed Croatia's budding wine culture
    Its vineyards feed Croatia's budding wine culture
  • You'll find differing grappa recipes in every village
    You'll find differing grappa recipes in every village
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Croatia's Istrian peninsula is, for all intents and purposes, a traveller's paradise. Bordered by the sparkling Adriatic Sea and blessed with a distinctly Italian diet, the region is probably best known for its tiny hilltop villages, between which many a hiking trail runs. One of the gravitational points along these trails is the miniscule town of Hum which, though on first inspection may appear inconspicuous, in fact holds the illustrious title of smallest city in the world.

Quoted as having anywhere between 17 and 23 inhabitants, Hum is small by all estimations. Surrounded by old city walls, the town is comprised of two small streets - which join together in a loop - and just three rows of houses, perhaps a dozen grey-stone buildings typical of medieval towns in the region.

It may be no bigger than the average hamlet, but Hum's roots are buried in well over 1000 years of history. Legend has it that the hilltop citadel was built by giants with stones left over from building the far larger towns found scattered further along the banks of the Mirna river.

Most arrive here as the final point of interest on the Glagolitic Alley, a walking route which passes through several small Croatian villages strongly associated with the ancient Slavic alphabet. A total of 11 memorials have been erected along the route as testament to the now unused script, giving visitors a brief history of its origins.

The Glagolitic alphabet was invented in the 9th century by St Cyril, a Byzantine monk from Thessaloniki. He and his brother, St Methodius, brought it to the region in the hope of making the bible more accessible to local communities. Though the original script died out soon after their deaths, it went on to spawn the Cyrillic alphabet, which is still used today in many Eastern European nations including Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria.

The Church of St Jerome, by far the town's most impressive structure, has important ties to the ancient alphabet. Sat outside the city walls, it holds ancient engravings in Glagolitic thought to be over 800 years old. The church, and the other memorials along the trail, are some of the best preserved examples of the script anywhere in the world. The trail officially ends at the gates of Hum, whose copper doors are engraved with words of welcome in Glagolitic and 12 shields to represent the months of the year.

Once past the gates, through the stone passageway and into the town itself, it takes all of 10 minutes to tour the remainder of its streets and buildings before ending up in the only local restaurant. Humska Konoba is used to welcoming almost all of Hum's visitors, serving up plate after plate of truffles - one of the region's many specialities - and other local dishes.

Like many of its fellow Istrian bars and restaurants, it too makes its own special variety of grappa. Impossible to eek from the owners, the secret recipe they use is said to be a couple of thousand years old and infused with various herbs, mistletoe and a powerful kick to bring weary walking legs back to life.

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